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Two Republicans running in District 2 for Brunswick County school board after incumbent David Robinson passes away

Incumbent David Robinson was running for re-election when he passed away on Monday. He had been facing two challengers in the Republican primary for Brunswick County Board of Education’s District 2. There will be no Democratic challenger in November.

Editor's note: This article has been updated after the announcement of Robinson's passing.

Late Monday night, Brunswick County Schools announced that Robinson had died.

"Today, with heavy hearts, the Brunswick County Board of Education mourns the passing of our esteemed colleague, David Robinson. His dedication to education and unwavering commitment to our students and staff will forever be remembered," the district wrote in a release.

“David devoted several years to public service in Brunswick County. In that time, he led with wisdom and a passion for our students and beloved community,” Board of Education Chairman Steven Barger said.

Brunswick County Schools Superintendent Dale Cole added, “David was a true champion of Brunswick County. His devotion to our school district will have a positive impact on the lives of our students for years to come”.

Robinson will still appear on the primary ballot during early voting (which runs through Saturday, March 2) and on primary Election Day (Tuesday, March 5). If he receives the most votes, the Brunswick County GOP will select someone to take his place in the general election — where they would be the presumptive winner, since there is no Democratic challenger in District 2.

David Robinson's challengers in the primary are former board member Catherine Cooke and Dr. Rick Hessman. Prior to his passing, Robinson had declined an interview for personal reasons, expressing regret that he would not have the opportunity to talk about the campaign. Cooke also declined an interview.

Dr. Rick Hessman has worked in public education for thirty years. In 2021, he retired as principal of Belville Elementary School. He’s also a trustee at Brunswick Community College.

Dr. Rick Hessman
Rick Hessman
Dr. Rick Hessman

Hessman said that even if Brunswick County residents don’t have families in the schools, the health of the district affects things like real estate prices and economic development.

Hessman added that although there’s a potential for a future school bond to invest in new buildings, he said the additional tax revenue from migration into the county would help support some of these efforts.

“So you've got more businesses to pull from; you've got a greater tax base to pull from because you're going to have to have another elementary school in the northern end of the county. You need that right now. I mean, that that has to happen very quickly; you're going to need probably another high school, eventually, in the Bolivia area,” Hessman said.

He also said the next elementary school should be built in the Winnabow area.

He reiterated that the need is great — and that certain schools in the county will need new additional wings, too.

Hessman said the district needs to take action now, since it takes on average five years to get a school built and running.

“When I was hired in 2016, Belville had 650 students. At one time it had gotten close to 900. They opened Town Creek Elementary; our numbers came back down again. Allison Dixon is the principal there now; I talked to her a couple of weeks ago, and their numbers now were 750-800, again. And it continues to rise. Town Creek is full. Lincoln Elementary is full. North Brunswick High School is full. I mean, you're gonna have to have a school in the northern end very, very quickly,” he said.

To Hessman, large class sizes are also a safety issue.

“Because if you have classes full, and enrollment is overcapacity in a school and you've got classes that should be 21 to 25, and they're sitting at 28 to 30, it affects learning every day. So you got to fix that, you got to stay ahead of the curve,” Hessman said.

He’s also advocating for the Brunswick County Commissioners to increase the local supplement for staff. He said as a former principal he saw the turnover firsthand.

“They're having trouble filling positions; they lose a teacher assistant, and they can't replace them; we lose a bus driver, we lose a custodian. We're losing good administrators to other counties,” he said.

But it’s more than just pay for Hessman; it’s about respect for the profession. He said educators want acknowledgment.

“They want to feel appreciated by their co-workers and parents. And they want to feel supported by their building administrator, by their district office, by their superintendent, and by the school board,” he said.

He said as a school administrator, he was his staff’s “biggest cheerleader”.

“I tried to address every situation in a positive manner because there's too much negative going on; we make school way too complicated and controversial. School is about relationship building,” he said.

And for Hessman, it’s about leading the adults to care for every child in the building.

“This was a sermon they heard all the time. ‘It is our responsibility to love every student just like they were our child or grandchild, and to make sure they love school.’ So if we motivate them to love school, and they feel loved when [they’re] there, then we can do great things in the classroom,” he said.

In terms of parent involvement, he expects the staff to “overcommunicate with parents,” but when it comes down to making decisions about teaching and learning, Hessman said, “That is not a parent decision. That is a decision between those educators in the building. We have a state curriculum we have to follow; we have local rules, and we have to follow them.”

Early voting continues until March 2. Election Day is March 5. You will need photo id. Unaffiliated voters can choose which party ballot to vote.

Click here for voter information and WHQR’s coverage of the candidates

Rachel is a graduate of UNCW's Master of Public Administration program, specializing in Urban and Regional Policy and Planning. She also received a Master of Education and two Bachelor of Arts degrees in Political Science and French Language & Literature from NC State University. She served as WHQR's News Fellow from 2017-2019. Contact her by email: rkeith@whqr.org or on Twitter @RachelKWHQR